A Reading List for Writers

I’ve continued to play around with the new Books2Read reading list option and put together this reading list of all of my favorite writing books. These are the books that are physically on a shelf in my office that I really liked. Definitely not all the writing-related books I’ve read over the years, but the ones I really enjoyed and found valuable.

There were a few that I couldn’t link to because they don’t exist in an ebook version, which I find strange in this day and age. But it is what it is.

I went ahead and created a separate account to do this because I have so many of my own books in my main B2R account, which means pretty much anyone could create an account as an “author” and then put together a list like this.

So, check it out if you’re looking for ideas on more writing books to read or if you just want to see how it works.

A Reading List for Writers

 

Ah, Life

I think one of the biggest challenges to this whole writing journey has been managing my ego. It’s one of the awful little side effects of having gone to really great schools (Stanford and Wharton). You’re puttering along in your life doing your thing and suddenly one of your classmates is appointed CEO of Yahoo! or wins a SAG award, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe for their incredible acting. (Both went to Stanford at the same time I did.)

Or another classmate casually mentions that they sold their firm with $10 billion in assets under management and are now taking a sabbatical to travel the world. (A Wharton classmate. And, ironically, that description may be too generic for you to even identify a specific individual.)

Now, I know in my heart of hearts that their paths are not ones that would interest me. I don’t look at them and say “that could’ve been me”. (Although I do think it would be fun to act. That’s one of those paths not taken for me.)

I know I’m not playing the same game they are. But when your peers have net worths in the hundreds of millions it can make it really, really hard to take pride in your own efforts. Especially when you know that you could be much more financially successful doing something other than what you’re doing.

A couple months ago a classmate at Wharton reached out and asked if I’d submit a class note about my writing. I almost said no.

One, because what I’m doing probably makes me the poster child for how not to use your Wharton degree. (You make your millions first, then you take up skydiving and writing novels. You don’t walk away from a good career without having paid off all your student loans to do those things, which is what I did.)

And, two, because as much as I’ve accomplished with my writing, I don’t view it as a success. Most of those class notes are people who’ve done something worth bragging about and for some reason I don’t feel what I’ve done is something to brag about.

Which is somewhat absurd. I have written ten novels and who knows how many non-fiction titles. And I’ve made a profit on them, which is actually saying something.

There was recently a thread on one of the writing forums where people were saying you should never expect to make $5,000 a month from writing. By that standard I’m a raging success.

(I think it’s a horrible mindset those people have when there are authors out there making $100,000 a month, but that’s another post altogether.)

But the problem is, I don’t apply the normal person in the normal world standard to my efforts. I don’t apply the “average writer” standard. Fuck average.

I apply the Stanford/Wharton standard. I look to my “peers” to judge my worth.

(And then I quickly look away, because holy shit.)

But that’s the thing. The people who’ve made it are in the news or in the class notes. No one writes in and says, “Since we all graduated I lost my job, declared bankruptcy, got divorced, and spent three months in a clinic for substance abuse issues. But now I’m living in a halfway house and getting by day-by-day.” Or, “Well, I got married, put all my dreams on hold, quit my six-figure job to raise kids I’m not sure I even like, and am now self-medicating with wine and Facebook while my husband spends inordinate amounts of time with his secretary.”

I have to remind myself that there are probably just as many people like that in my peer group as the superstars. Not that it helps. Because ego. I still think I should do well at whatever I do. Well being top 2%.

So, anyway. I submitted the note. With a good dose of humor included. And now it will forever sit there next to my classmate’s note about his very successful venture. Really, I think that combination pretty much says it all.

Oh, and for any Wharton classmates who find their way here, the skydiving comment was not in fact a joke. This is me doing a sit-fly over Taupo, New Zealand back in the day.

6- Me 2

A Little Link Fun

I spent the last two days doing Strengths coaching for writers and it was wonderful and awesome, but now I’m supposed to be turning back to the third cozy so I can release it on what would have been my dad’s 70th birthday. (Crazy to think about since he’s been gone for 24 years and he’s just frozen at that age for me forever.)

Anyway. Me being me, I of course am not actually working on finalizing the cozy. Instead I got distracted by Books2Read’s new reading list option.  You can go on there and create your own reading list that you can then share with others. As an author I have all of my books listed with them, but it’s not exclusive to authors as far as I know. I think anyone could go on there and list books and create a reading list out of it. So, for example, books you’ve reviewed or that you recommend, etc.

(Now that I’ve said that, I might try that myself, just for kicks.)

For authors, there’s also an option to edit your author page and provide a link to that.

So, here’s a page I put together for the Excel books.

And here’s one I put together for M.L. Humphrey.

Pretty cool, huh?

I’m not sure it saves more steps than having people come here to see what books are available, but it is a bit more slick.

 

AMS and Pricing And Experiments

About a month ago I decided to take my romance novels out of Kindle Unlimited. Not because I necessarily expected them to sell on the other platforms, but because I just grow sour on KU and how it operates at times and I think there’s a growing schism in self-publishing land that somewhat revolves around KU and I’d rather be on the “people pay for my books specifically instead of borrowing them because what the hell” side of things.

(No judgement here on anyone who chooses or feels differently and not saying that there aren’t authors in KU who have name recognition and a loyal fan base, there definitely are. If you’re making money at this, go you.)

Anyway.

One of the things I try to do when I advertise a book that isn’t in KU is to also only target books that aren’t in KU. I do this because I think it cuts down on the number of clicks without buys that my ad gets because I’m not attracting buyers who are looking for a title to borrow.

When I was going through the list of authors who’ve been good targets for AMS ads on that first romance novel, I noticed that many of those authors were priced at $6.99 in ebook. My price on that novel at the time was $4.99.

Now, if you were to go to any of the author forums and suggest that you wanted to list your romance title for sale at $6.99 as a self-published author, you’d be laughed out of the building. Who on earth is going to buy a self-published romance novel at $6.99 when they can buy a box set of twenty romance novels for 99 cents? The market just doesn’t support that. Maybe you can get away with $4.99, but $6.99? No.

Well…

It turns out there are some readers out there who will buy a self-published novel at $6.99. And that I can still run successful AMS ads on a romance novel that’s not in KU at that price point.

I’m not burning up the charts by any means, but the outcome I’m seeing is pretty much the same as when this novel was in KU and priced at $4.99. In the 30 days before I pulled the novel it had 13 paid sales at $4.99 and 21,000 page reads. (Keep in mind this is a novel that’s been out for over four years and where I only have two titles out under that name and the last novel was published two years ago.)

In the 30 days after I pulled the novel it’s had 28 sales at $6.99.

The only problem is that the ad doesn’t result in borrows/buys as often as when it was in KU at a lower price, so I’m not sure the ad will continue to run. AMS likes success and if you fail to hit that level that it deems successful, you get shut down.

I do think, though, that this highlights an important issue to think about with respect to AMS. There are a number of moving parts to running an AMS ad. One is how much per click you have to bid to have your ad shown, another is how much you have to pay for clicks on your ad, another is how many clicks to a purchase or borrow, and another is how much you make on a purchase or borrow of your book.

All four of those factors come into play in determining whether you can successfully run AMS ads long-term. It’s easy to bid really high and get visibility on a title. You might even get sales. But if you’re paying $1 per click and it takes 5 clicks to a sale and you only earn $2 on that sale, you’re very nicely losing yourself $3 per sale of your book. If you instead make $5 on that sale, you’re at least breaking even.

It seems counter-intuitive, but sometimes raising prices makes your ads more profitable. At each price point there is very likely a differing number of clicks that will lead to a sale and if you can find that sweet spot where the number of clicks needed is smaller relative to the income from a sale, you can increase profitability even if sales or the number of readers go down slightly.

Of course, you have to back that up with a good product, too, or long-term a poor customer experience will take you down. But that’s a whole other discussion…

I should also add here that when I looked at prices for fantasy novels that the price point I was seeing a lot of was $9.99, but I just couldn’t bring myself to try it, so even I have my psychological stopping points when it comes to pricing ebooks. (I put those books to $7.99 again because they actually do alright there and that is yet another pen name I am not actively adding to at the moment. Sigh.)

Survivorship Bias Can Be Interesting

I just finished reading Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It’s an interesting book to read although it took me an incredibly long time to circle back to it and finish it. But I did and I’m glad I did so.

One of the concepts he discusses towards the end of the book is the concept of survivorship bias. Here’s a link to a very long article about it which describes survivorship bias as “your tendency to focus on survivors instead of whatever you would call a non-survivor depending on the situation. Sometimes that means you tend to focus on the living instead of the dead, or on winners instead of losers, or on successes instead of failures.”

It’s a pernicious problem in self-publishing. Because most of the people giving advice now are the ones who “survived” to give that advice. And most of those people assume that what they did is why they survived.

But that’s not necessarily true.

Let me give an unrelated example. I watch the Price is Right almost every day while I’m eating lunch. And the way that people bid on that show is sometimes outrageously painful. I blogged about this on my old blog here. But basically what happens is that sometimes the person who wins the bidding round does so by sheer unadulterated luck.

This is the person who bids $1250 when the other three bids were $750, $1000, and $1500. They win because the price of the item was $1300 but it wasn’t a smart bid given the other three bids that had already been made. That bid shows no understanding whatsoever of how to maximize the odds of winning. Because by bidding $1250 that person gave away the chance to win if the item was actually priced from $1001 to $1249. And they have no idea that’s what they did. They don’t even see it. All they see is that they won, so they think they did it right. They don’t see how close they came to losing.

This happens with self-publishing, too. Someone will say, “I made half a million dollars self-publishing by doing x, so everyone should do it my way.” And at first blush that seems like someone worth listening to, right? They made half a million dollars. They must know how to do this.

But maybe they’re just the one survivor out of a hundred people who followed the same ill-advised strategy and they just happen to have succeeded where all others who followed the same path failed.  The 99 people who failed aren’t there to give their stories of failure. All we have is the one story of success.

That’s survivorship bias at work.

So if someone says something that doesn’t sit right with you, question it. Not with them, because they’ll get all snarky about their success and how you’re clearly an ill-informed fool to doubt them (ask me how I know). But look around. Try to disprove their advice. Find counter-examples. Look for the shattered failures to get the full picture. Remember that you’re talking to a survivor, you’re not looking at an unbiased sample.

Book Rec for Self-Publishers

I decided not to take my computer on my trip last week which gave me plenty of time on the way there and back to do some catch-up reading. (I tend to still read physical books more than ebooks so all the ebooks I end up acquiring here or there just sit on my ereader unread for ages.)

One that I think I received free via Wharton was called The Shopping Revolution by Barbara E. Kahn. (That’s an affiliate link, FYI, but you can just search for it as well.)

As someone who uses Amazon to sell my products it was a really interesting read. There’s a lot of discussion in indie world about how Amazon should police its store for copyright violations or people who trade and republish the same material, etc. etc. but what this book makes clear is that Amazon doesn’t give a flying you-know-what about any of that.

Turns out they have a stated approach of not taking any responsibility for knock-off products being sold on their site. (Yet another reason for me as a consumer to not shop there anymore, after having bought brand-name products that didn’t seem to be the same as the ones I had bought in physical stores. Now I know why.)

It also makes it very clear that Amazon believes in differentiating itself on low pricing. So for all us who bemoan Amazon’s many ways of controlling pricing, that’s a deliberate strategy on their part. The fact that they skew payouts to drive ebook prices below $10 for self-publishing is not going to change anytime soon. (Which sucks, quite frankly, and is why I chose not to list the ebook version of Excel Essentials for sale on Amazon.)

Anyway. About a third of the book is devoted to an in depth discussion and analysis of Amazon and I think it’s well worth reading if you’re going to do business with Amazon, which, as a self-publisher, is pretty much impossible to avoid.

Let’s Talk Scammers

The term scammer gets thrown around a lot. Especially this week. But the reality is that there is a continuum that exists between flat-out black hat sales tactics and white hat sales tactics. As someone whose background is in regulation I look at things and say, “that’s a violation of a rule”, “that’s a violation of a term of service”, “that’s just tacky and underhanded”, and “eh, okay whatever.”

But most people don’t come from a regulatory background so everything becomes a scam and everyone becomes a scammer. And in the world of publishing it can be hard or actually impossible for readers to know the difference between one or the other.

Nora Roberts on her Blowback thread made a comment along the lines of tell readers what they can look for to find a scammer. The answer is not pretty or simple. Some of the people who’ve engaged in shady tactics are best-selling authors who have engaged fan bases or authors who can flash USA Today best-seller and NYT best-seller credits.

So let’s try to walk through this.

Black hat tactics:

These are the easy ones. These are the people who flat out steal content from other writers. I think it was David Gaughran who mentioned that early on in his career someone took his book, with the same cover and author name, and slapped it up on Amazon and started to sell it.

This is not taking public domain content and reselling it, which it turns out is legal, but just flat out ripping off someone else’s book hook, line, and sinker.

Right behind that is what caused the latest flare up in this discussion. Which is taking parts of people’s books and using them in your own. We’re not talking four or five words here. We’re talking entire paragraphs of text that were pretty much used verbatim. If that work is under copyright, which pretty much anything written in the last couple decades will be, that’s theft.

Another black hat tactic is paying for fake reviews. People want social proof so some authors will go out and buy X five-star reviews. Or X social media followers.

Click farms are another one I’d put under this category. If a book is in KU the author gets paid in part based on page reads. Someone can borrow their book but if it isn’t read, the author doesn’t get paid. And some unscrupulous publishing types will pay someone in a poor area of the world to literally borrow and click through their book so they get paid. There was a point in time where they would put a link at the beginning of the book to the end of the book and all it took to get paid for a full read of that title was someone clicking that link.

(A gray hat version of this was to have the link and tell readers there was some special bonus at the back of the book that they should click to. Since the readers were legit, I’m putting it in the gray hat category. But it was meant to earn that author far more than they should have on a read of that specific book because they often put a ton of filler content between the story the reader bought and the back of the book. By clicking on the link the author was paid for all of it being read even if the reader skipped over the middle junk.)

We’re now sort of moving into dark dark gray territory. In this category, one of the things that’s done is paying readers incentives to buy a book during a set period of time. These are often readers who want the book and they’re offered some sort of bonus or some sort of rebate or some sort of prize entry if they provide proof that they bought the book during certain dates. There are TOS issues around this as well as some prize contest rules that can be violated.

The reason it’s done is what also contributes to making it so sketchy. This is often used to earn letters. So the reason those purchases have to happen during a specific period of time is so that the “book” in question can get enough sales to make the USA Today list. Prior to changes with the NYT list it was also used to game that list. (I put book in quotes there because often it’s a box set not a single novel that’s being pushed up the charts this way, usually one priced at 99 cents.)

Gray Hat Tactics:

These are the ones that violate terms of service, but probably not the law.

Incentivizing readers to leave reviews is a huge one that happens quite a lot. Often this is done innocently, but it’s a violation of the terms of service. “Hey, review my book and I’ll give you the next in the series free.” Or “I’ll enter you into a contest for a gift card.”

Trading reviews would also follow under this category. “You review my book, I’ll review yours.” (Do you honestly expect those reviews to be honest ones when the potential to end up with a negative review on your own book is so high?)

A lot of what she-who-shall-not-be-named-because-she-sues-people used to do was probably in the gray area. In her case it was things like having books that were required to be exclusive to KU also in pre-order box sets that were listed wide at the same time. Or swapping out the content of box sets after the first week of release so that what had been a twenty-novel box set was now a collection of novellas and short stories.

There was also a large amount of gifting books to readers to make the lists. So basically, we’ll spend $X to get Y number of sales so we hit the list even though we hit the list on sales that track back to us not legitimate readers off the street. But hey, now we’re all USA Today Bestselling Authors for life. Yippee.

Bad category placement is another one that goes here. So, for example, some of my competitors in cozy mystery list their books in the non-fiction pet category because they can rank there whereas ranking in cozy mystery requires getting into the sub-5K range, which is not easy.

Ridiculous titles with everything under the sun in the actual title is at the fringe of gray hat. It’s against Amazon’s TOS. You know “Take By The Alpha (A Bear Shifter Menage Reverse Harem Fantasy)”.

There’s also been some allegations of intentionally formatting books to get more page reads. Early on when KU first started paying by the page it was publicly discussed how to format books to get the highest KENP for a book. Later that went underground, but there are suspicions that some of the people banned last year were forcing the formatting of their books to be double and triple spaced in order to get paid more.

There’s also the to-me-reprehensible part where authors pretend to be someone they’re not and engage in conversations with readers on that basis. Someone who is currently being dragged on another issue admitted last year to lying to readers about hobbies and interests. This was a man who found it okay to talk to female readers about book boyfriends and what he’d done that day (as a female pen name) even though it was all a lie and fabrication. We’re not talking lies of omission here, we’re talking out and out lies to people about who the author is. (And now someone will come along and point out that JK Rowling’s Galbraith biography claimed she was a man with a background in law enforcement and I’ll go on the record as saying I found that pretty darned shady to be honest.)

Tactics That Are Problematic But Not Illegal or Against TOS:

Now we get into the fun part where most of the drama happens. I have some questions about how copyright works with reused material and there’s been a lot a lot of debate around bundled books, but for now let’s assume what I’m going to talk about next is not actually a violation of the letter of the law or the letter of a terms of service.

Bundling books. This one was really a big deal last year. You had some where it was just horribly blatant. Book 1 was books A, B, and C. Book 2 was books C, B, and A. Book 3 was books B, C, and A. It was the same damned material just in a different order. And if you combined it with the link to the back it meant an author was paid for full reads of three books when the reader probably only wanted to read one.

Other authors argued that it had created an expectation within their genres for bundled books. So they started doing it, too. You’d have Book 1 with books A, Z, and E. Book 2 with books B, Y, and F. Etc. The argument was made that sometimes trade publishers include a bonus short story or something like that, but this really was a ploy to get KU page reads.

At the time the TOS on Amazon were not very clear so it was a big debate about spirit vs. letter of the requirement. But, honestly, I was never convinced that selling books A, B, and C in every possible combination to the same readers was ever about the reader.

Serials. In some romance genres serials are expected or even liked. This is taking a story and telling it in parts. So you don’t release Novel A, you release installment 1, 2, 3, etc.  It lets an author have rapid releases which lets them stay on the Amazon charts without the author having to write a novel a month. Where this one can shade towards questionable is when someone just splits a novel into five sections and releases each section without any concern or care about how complete the story in each section is. This one was a real issue during the first iteration of KU when it didn’t matter what length a published item was, authors were paid the same amount.

Ghostwriting. This has been a heavy subject of conversation this week and I already devoted a post to it. It comes in a lot of iterations, but the one that probably frustrates a lot of authors is the model that means such rapid releases by an author that there’s no breathing room at the top of the charts for anyone else. Interestingly, authors don’t tend to object as much to an author who can release rapidly if the author wrote that material, but when it’s ghost-written it can be really upsetting to the competition.

When done poorly this also creates a bad reader experience where there’s huge variation in quality between books.

Repackaging Existing Content: I’ve tried to relaunch a failed title or two. I’ve switched up titles and pen names to do so but always disclosed the original as well. On the far extreme of this one are the folks who take someone else’s story, swap out a few names, and republish the content as if it were new. Or the ones who gender flip erotica to make a M/M story F/F or a M/F story M/M with the assumption that they’re targeting a different group of readers so no one will ever notice.

Extreme ad spends. There’s a schism in self-publishing and maybe publishing in general between people who see this as a business like any other and those who see it as an artistic endeavor that they hope to make money at. And one of the places where this really comes up is in advertising. Because if you see this as a business like any other then you’re selling widgets. So when you find a widget that people will want you push the bejeezus out of it with ads. There are people spending tens of thousands a month on advertising to get their books up the charts. Some of those people are making money on those ads. Some are not. They’re aiming for KU bonuses.

Those who don’t have ad budgets to get their books up the charts tend to really resent this one because they can’t compete. (It’s the “pay-to-play” complaints that cropped up last year with respect to AMS ads.)

Low-pricing. There is a lot a lot of advice out there to price books at 99 cents or free. And it’s a tactic that has made many an indie career. Permafree first in series has been a game changer for a number of authors. A few large Bookbub ads have done the same thing for others. I can’t count the number of authors who said they had their first five-figure month because of a 99 cent or free promotion.

But the flip side of that is the devaluing of books. When so much of the book market is available for such a low price, it can make it hard to sell at the top of the market. I personally hate the “I’m an unknown and no one will buy my book at any price other than 99 cents” comments. Bullshit. I’m an unknown. And yet I’ve sold ebooks of my novels for as much as $7.99. Not thousands of copies at that price, but hundreds at prices indies supposedly can’t sell at.

KU. Clearly this is a legit service. Many authors have made livings having all of their books in KU. But the way that Amazon tilts things in favor of those in KU should be federally investigated IMO. A borrow should not be equal to a buy. Also, the way that it trains readers to just borrow crap and then throw it back after a few pages is highly damaging to the book ecosystem. The KU bonus system also encourages a lot of the behaviors discussed above. It’s a system that can be gamed and is gamed. (It’s also a nice discovery mechanism if you’re a new author worried people won’t pay for your books and a place where many voracious readers have converged so it’s hard to avoid these days. Even authors who advocated strongly for never ever going into KU a couple years ago have now. Either completely or with secret pen names.)

So What To Do

There’s probably more black and gray hat tactics I missed. There’s always more. We’re operating in a sort of Wild West new frontier situation where there are always new tactics and strategies emerging. And it can be scary and frustrating and as an author you can think you have to do certain things to compete.

For authors: As a friend of mine likes to say, question the premise. Don’t get sucked into the belief that X reviews sell books. If those reviews are organic that means there’s 100 times that number in sales behind each review. That’s what sells books. Just getting X reviews from some shifty Fiverr gig is not going to have the same effect. Ask yourself, would I be comfortable telling my grandma or my priest that this is what I did to achieve that? Would I be comfortable if my fans knew the truth? If they knew exactly how I got to where I am? If they knew who I am?

If not, don’t do it.

For readers: If you’re reading a book and it’s offering you a bunch of links and special shit, ask why. If you’re thinking of buying a book and you look at that book’s categories and they make no sense, ask why a legitimate publisher would put that book in that category. If you are thinking of buying a book and the also-boughts for that book have nothing to do with that book’s category, ask why. (I had a competitor in Excel whose also boughts were for InstaPot and Keto diet books. There is not that strong an overlap between those categories, which means that author had done something shady somewhere to get those also-boughts.) If someone claims to be a USA Today or NYT best-seller, check it out. Did they get that on their own merits? Or did they get that as part of a twenty-book box set with other authors you’ve never heard of for a book priced at 99 cents. Do you really think that puts them on a part with the Stephen Kings and Nora Roberts of the world? If the blurb isn’t even in good English, assume the rest of the book won’t be either. (Lots of cheap ghostwriters are not native English speakers.)

My Practical Wish List

There are many things I would love to see, but life doesn’t work the way I want it to. So on a practical, this could maybe even happen basis, this is what I would love to see happen on Amazon where most of this occurs:

-I’d love to see KU all-star bonuses go away because those have been alleged too many times to be the incentive behind a lot of this crap

-I’d love to see Amazon quit treating a borrow and a sale equally in its rankings.

-I’d also love to see audio, print, ebook, and KU ranking lists that are completely separate and have the KU list be based on page reads not borrows. (Although page reads can still be gamed.)

-I’d love to see 99 cent box sets no longer count towards any of the lists (USA Today) and I’d love to see only authors who made a list on a standalone full-price title actually use that designation, because really?

-I’d love to see books that are fiction only listed in fiction categories and only in relevant ones. Limit a book to two categories. Clear some space at the top for more variety.

-I’d love to see Amazon actually take all the gaming of their own rules seriously. It does not require a lot of manpower. But it does require willpower. Something they clearly don’t have.

Anyway. Figured I’d take a stab at laying some of this out. It is most definitely not a perfect system we’re working in.

One Final Note

What happens often in these situations is someone will look at what I laid out above and say something like, “Oh, well that person only has five-star reviews so they must be a scammer.” Or “Oh, that person says they’re a USA Today Bestselling Author and they did it on a box set so they must be a scammer”.

But it’s never that simple. That cozy I published last year? Over six hundred copies sold and so far all it has are five-star reviews on Amazon. Thankfully at least one person on Goodreads didn’t like it, but how absurd is that that an author has to hope that someone dislikes their book so they can look legitimate to people who see scammers everywhere?

And I know some of those USA Today bestsellers who got there off of box sets. They weren’t scammers. Misguided about what matters perhaps, but not scammers.

That’s been one of my big frustrations this week is watching all of the alarmist comments around this. Is it possible that scammers have managed to get a Bookbub promotion? Yeah, absolutely. Does that make Bookbub a scam? No. Are there some scammers who don’t set up social media accounts? Sure, maybe. (Although I gotta tell ya most of the scammers who are really good at this are slick operators who will tick all the boxes, including the social media boxes.)

All I can say is don’t use absolute rules. Watch. Listen. Ask if what you’re seeing makes sense. Don’t trust that because a book is high-ranked that it’s good. Don’t trust that because it’s packaged well that it’s good. Have standards. For yourself if you’re a writer and for the authors you read if you’re a reader.